[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given to the United Church of God congregation in Portland on Sabbath, October 23, 2021.]
Today, I am going to talk about a law in the Bible that everyone breaks. In fact, I am going to break this law flagrantly and repeatedly for educational purposes today in this message. What kind of law would God make that is so impossible for us to keep, and what is God going to do about it? Today, I would like to begin my message by introducing or reminding you all of this law. Let us turn in our Bibles to Exodus 23:13. This is a brief law, only one verse in length, that is included as part of the larger discussion in the law of the covenant that immediately follows the giving of the ten commandments at Mount Sinai. Exodus 23:13 reads: ““And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.”
At first glance, this law does not seem as if it is difficult to keep. How many of us, after all, consciously have the voice of other gods on our lips? The answer is, more of us and more often than might seem to be the case. I would like to spend a fair amount of the limited time I have with you all today to discuss many of the ways in which we flagrantly and frequently break this law. Let us consider the calendar in the days of the week and the months of the year. During the course of time we are constantly referring to the names of heathen gods and goddesses. During the days of the week, for example, Tuesday means Tiy’s day, Wednesday means Woden’s day, Thursday means Thor’s day, and Friday means Friya’s day, and all four of those names refer to various deities, some more famous than others, from the Old Norse gods and goddesses. Saturday is a reference to the severe Roman god Saturn, who was gloomy and of ill omen. And that is not even considering the deified sun and moon that the first two days of the week are named after.
It is no different when we look at the months of the year, and examine why it is that we refer to Janus, that two-faced Roman god, in January, or Mars, the Roman god of war, in March, or Juno, the wife of Jupiter, perhaps more familiar as Hera in the Greek myths, in June, or refer to the deified emperors Julius and Augustus Ceasar during July and August, to give but a few examples. These are examples where all of us frequently, even continually, break this law by having the names of other gods on our lips, even if we no longer consciously think of the gods which are being referred to here. Even if most of us have forgotten the meaning of these days and who they originally referred to, the calender remembers the name of the gods through the syncretized worship practices that motivated the people who named the days of the week and the months of the year in our language. Different languages have made different choices about the names of the days of the week and the months of the year than we have, though these too have their own historical record to uncover.
And this does not exhaust the ways in which we violate this particular commandment. If we are students of astronomy, we again continually have the names of heathen deities on our lips when we refer to the heavens. We have already mentioned that heathen cultures worshiped the sun and moon as deities. But so too all of our major planets and many asteroids as well as moons of planets are named after various heathen gods and goddesses, of which there is no end. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are all named after Roman gods, and so it is that the moons of these various planets are also named according to various heathen myths from the Greco-Roman tradition. This is even true of the asteroid belt, where asteroids are given the name of various heathen deities as is the custom of astronomers. We may not think of those who point telescopes at the sky of being influenced by long ago false religious beliefs, but the names that these astronomers have given to these heavenly bodies indicates the influence of heathen religion here as well.
We may even violate this law forbidding having the name of heathen deities on our lips for our own personal amusement. Those who are fans of the Marvel cinematic universe, for example, may frequently have upon their lips the names of Thor and Loki and other Asgardians, who as we have already mentioned have their origin in the heathen Norse religion of pagan Scandinavia. Young people may read books like the Percy Jackson series, read by millions of people, which have as their heroes and heroines demigods who are supposedly the children of various Greek and Roman gods, giving imaginative life to those which are not gods and are neither to be worshiped nor to be considered at all. There are numerous other television shows and books and movies that have made reference to these heathen deities, even the reference to the Bridge of the Gods that crosses the Columbia River at Bonneville.
Having seen, then, that the names of foreign gods are frequently on our lips because of the way that our time and space are structured as well as the entertainment efforts of people to bring the heathen old ways that people used to worship once again before the minds and into the memory of young people in particular who are expected to consume these television shows, these movies, these comic books or young adult novels and so on, the obvious question we have is what are we to do about it. It is not my intent to tell you all how to obey this law. There are, as we have seen, some fields such as our calendars and astronomy where we have made little effort to come up with alternative names that avoid referring to the pagan pantheons of the ancient world. For the present, at least, such matters seem difficult or impossible to avoid making reference to heathen gods in some fashion. Where we are choosing forms of entertainment to consume, we are responsible for what we consume and whether we think God would disapprove of voluntarily seeking out entertainment choices that make reference to heathen and rival systems of worship to that of the Bible.
What I do, wish to do, at least in part, is to discuss how it is that God will eventually deal with the problem of having the names of heathen deities on our lips because of the corruption of language. Let us now turn to Hosea 2:16-20. Here we see God dealing with precisely this problem of having the name of heathen gods embedded in their language, with concepts that kept them from fully understanding God’s nature and character. Hosea 2:16-20 reads: ““And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ for I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”
Here, we see that just as is the case in our own society, so to in ancient Israel the language of the Israelites was embedded with the name of heathen deities. Here Baali, a word by which the Israelites referred to the Eternal as Lord and Master, was a reference to the various Baals that were worshipped by the heathen peoples around them. From this passage we know that God will change the language of Israel so that they will no longer call Him by this name that brings to mind the heathen deities that were worshiped by those around them, but will instead call Him by a name of His choosing. We can therefore draw from this passage the understanding that Go is both aware of the problem that we all face in having the names of heathen gods on our lips through the vagaries of our language and the corrupt way in which those languages were enriched by heathen myths and legends and false worship practices which became embedded in the words we use to refer to the world around us and how we have divided space and time and named people and fictional characters and the plots we use and reuse in our stories. However much we all struggle to keep the names of false gods and the memory of their ungodly ways from our own lips, let us be confident that God will purify our tongues so that these old ways and these false gods are consigned to oblivion where they belong, and that we may know God as He is.